by Gavin Dubois
Candlelight was all we had, but you didn’t seem to mind. My eyes had grown weary from focusing. From trying to witness what lay beyond lilting wax candles, held aloft by symmetrical rows of chandeliers. You always sat on the periphery of their cast, still sitting up straight, despite the faith-affirming maple of the pews. Even as a child, you had always sat up straight. While the rest of my parish slouched and snoozed, you listened intently, a pair of glowing eyes and soft breath melting into the darkness. I would raise my voice for you. I would grow from feeble whisper to booming timber.
During Mass, I made a habit to commiserate with my flock. Their numbers could have been greater; their faith could have been stronger. When they imbibed the blood of Christ, I could see habit in their movements. Not reverence, not even respect. Routine. A head cocked back, a gesture towards the lips, an open mouth. An expectation. For His body, His blood. Communion was something that you never elected to participate in. A sacrament that — like most other things — you chose to watch.
There were times when you professed I had helped you. That my sermons had woven in you a hope for the future. The pain I felt in those words could not match the pain in my heart as I remembered your childhood. Your innocent smiles, your love for God… expunged in a simple, weak act.
Once, in the bitterness of winter, you remained long past the end of evening mass. As I went about the nightly routine, I could feel your eyes following my every move. Yet, when I approached you, a brusque “Thanks” was all I received. And then you left. The echoes of your footsteps resounded amongst years of stone — the same stone that has heard secrets and loves and promises and lies.
I cannot reconcile myself with this sin, with this grief. But your last words to me before you no longer inhabited the furthest possible pew… they will forever bolster my faith. You have known me as I have known no other. I envy you. I envy your love, and your starry-eyed visage. How you know — you truly know — what God’s love is. I professed to give it to you, but I was wrong. I am wrong. I am a bastardization of his love, a glitch in the machine that he built those thousands of years ago.
“Why are you here?” I had asked once, finally. Everyone else had left. The sermon ended hours ago. I pressed on. “Why are you still here?”
Your stare was a hand I wanted to grasp. A hand I wished would lead me home. “Your eyes,” you finally said.
“What about them?”
“I used to see a warmth in them,” you stood then, towering over my withered form. You were a man grown. I was silent. Not because I could not understand, but because I agreed. Used to.
“I didn’t know at the time,” you said. “I couldn’t understand why,” Your hands were raised, in defense. Or perhaps, I thought within the innermost crevices of my mind, in longing. “Now… I think I can.” With that, you left, and your visage dissolved into the whispering glow of candlelight.